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Out of the Woods

Sadly, it seemed like little Eek had reached the end of the line.

Eek in the shadowsEek had gradually become increasingly lethargic over several weeks, with less and less of an appetite. She also seemed to have lost weight. An email was sent to Dr. Stern - should there be concern? Should action be taken? If so, how quickly? The response was that yes, this was disconcerting, and though Dr. Stern was not available, Eek should be taken to another explicitly specified vet as soon as possible. An appointment was made for Eek, and we soon embarked on the long drive to the clinic.

After checking over Eek, this vet concluded that given Eek's difficult beginnings, she undoubtedly had kidney issues. Eek was certainly very dehydrated, and was given a subcutaneous saline shot. And she had lost about 20 grams of weight - significant for such a small body. It was recommended that Eek be hand-feed via a syringe, filled with a paste made of Oxbow "Critical Care". Eek did eat a little of it while in the vet's office. In all though, at a year and three months of age, the vet pronounced Eek as "just old". She was living her final few days.

This is the part of the story where I cried buckets of tears for days and did not want to go to sleep, for fear that Eek would die while I was not with her.

Two days later we were able to see Dr. Stern who also noted that Eek was anemic and dehydrated. She recommended a blood test, in order to better determine the cause. Acquiring the necessary blood was a challenge, as Eek's veins are in different locations than the usual pet rat. None the less, Dr. Stern persevered and acquired a sample. And she gave Eek another subcutaneous saline shot. Given that Eek would no longer eat the special diet, Dr. Stern recommended feeding Eek most anything she would eat within certain parameters.

The blood test results came in the next day, and while supporting the diagnosis of anemia, also, surprisingly, indicated that Eek's liver and kidneys were functioning normally . Her systems were producing lots of red blood cells but something was disrupting them faster than she could make them. The new theory was that Eek was battling some sort of internal parasite, or was having autoimmune issues. Dr. Stern wanted to send a fecal sample to the lab, in order to better understand Eek's ailment, but that has, so far, presented an insurmountable challenge. The lab needs a sample of sufficient size (3 grams) and it must not be more than three days old. Eek however produces extremely tiny feces, and her very efficient body certainly does not produce three grams even over several weeks. I began combing her cage for droppings daily and storing them in the fridge, attempting to build up enough volume for them to be tested.

Pending additional testing results, Dr. Stern put Eek on doxycycline, in wee little doses. There was also the possibility of putting Eek on a steroid, which had to be acquired from the local pharmacy - an adventure in itself, where we had to answer all of the usual "human" questions (date of birth, gender, known drug allergies, etc.) and confirm that the ultra tiny dose was an appropriate size and not a typo. Additionally, Dr. Stern recommended that all sticks in Eek's cage be removed and replaced with specific types of wood of known origin: from non-sprayed fruit trees or willow trees. Dr. Stern even graciously brought Eek some sticks from her own willow tree. Plants acquired from external sources (i.e. from the nearby woods) were also to be removed from Eek's diet, at least for the time being.

At first, Eek would eat nothing but hand-fed sunflower seeds and a few microwaved peas. Heartrendingly, everything else was rejected. Even blueberries were no longer appealing. And to encourage her to eat the seeds, and not store them in her cache, each individual seed had to be presented slowly, one at a time. Foods of all kinds were presented to Eek daily based on suggestions by Dr. Stern. Given Eek's love of fresh clover, alfalfa hay was thought possibly tempting. However, alfalfa hay apparently resembles sticks to a teeny Woodrat brain, and after being tested for construction capabilities, was ignored. But Scribble would eat it! Raw carrots were rejected along with banana. Scribble gladly ate both. Cooked carrots - popular with Scribble - received some minor attention from Eek. Pumpkin seeds seemed to have potential to be exciting, given that Eek would eat sunflower seeds. Eek appeared offended that they were offered to her. Scribble, however, loved them. Garbanzo beans were the first cooked bean offering, then pinto beans, lentils and other beans. Following the now predictable theme, Scribble loved them and Eek ignored them. Scribble even enjoyed the clover sprouts that Eek rejected. Scribble quickly and cheerfully acquired the 20 grams of weight that Eek had lost and has been quite pleased to benefit from about the array of new dietary options gathered on Eek's behalf. Several days into the doxycycline, Eek finally became willing to also eat raw organic pistachios. And then kale became more acceptable again. Eek was starting to put back on some weight.

Changing the sticks in Eek's cage was unfortunately traumatic for her. Previously when cleaning her cage, her hammock-based food cache and her little circular wad of bedding, which she had worked up to just her liking, were usually left untouched. It is important to note that, unlike Scribble, Eek is mindful about where she eliminates waste, and never does it where she sleeps or stores her food. But in case there was a parasite that she consumed from an outside source, or a stick from a noxious tree, an especially through cleaning was important. This though turned her originally orderly world on it's head. It took her more than a week to subsequently readjust her surroundings to her liking. That she had the energy to readjust her environs was a sign that she was beginning to feel better.

A week after starting the doxycycline, Eek had put almost 10 grams of weight back on. And her appetite had begun to return. She started eating pumpkin seeds - an earlier reject, plus any kind of nut, even a bit of blackberry and apple. Some cooked squash and sweet potato started being consumed. Most exciting, Eek returned to her previous energy levels, enthusiastically resuming her usual daily free runs in the spare room.

Two weeks later Eek again visited Dr. Stern, who found Eek to be much healthier. Color had returned to her little feet - their unusual whiteness being a sign of her anemia - and she was no longer dehydrated. Dr. Stern called the next day with the results of another blood test, reporting that Eek was "out of the woods" - that her levels had returned to the low end of the "normal" range. And, happily, the "saved" collection of teeny droppings could now be used to fertilize a (very small) plot of land.

Whatever the problem was, Eek is now doing well once again! She's even resumed her enjoyment of blueberries.

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Blog_post | by Dr. Radut